SUNDERLAND went four points clear at the top of the Women’s Premier League after a comprehensive win over plucky Charlton yesterday.
A 3-0 defeat for nearest rivals Leeds United at Manchester City gives the Lady Black Cats breathing space at the top – and they also have a game in hand.
Aston Villa are now level with Leeds in joint second place on 15 points, but they have played two games more than Sunderland.
The home side struggled to get into their stride against a well-organised Charlton side, with the first real chance coming from an unlikely source – right-back Abby Holmes having a 30-yard shot tipped over the bar by Charlton keeper Kelly Cooper.
The visitors worked hard in midfield to deny Sunderland any time on the ball and the home side were struggling to create opportunities.
Sunderland kept at it, though, and were almost rewarded after 30 minutes when an inswinging corner created havoc in the Charlton box, and striker Beth Mead fired just over.
Mead soon had another opportunity after been sent through by Holmes. Her pace left her through on goal but her shot was blocked by the keeper.
Mead’s persistence was rewarded soon after. Rachel Furness sent her clear with a through ball and this time she showed composure to shoot low past Cooper.
The lead was doubled three minutes into the second half.
Tricky play from right-back Holmes ended in a deep cross which Natalie Gutteridge met well to head in off the underside of the bar.
Mead’s electric pace was causing major problems for the visitors. She and Keira Ramshaw both had shots well blocked by a valiant Charlton back line.
Charlton responded well to the setback, and eight minutes later they had a chance to half their deficit.
Skipper Steph Bannon was adjudged to have tripped Gemma Bryan in the area, and referee Gary McClelland pointed to the spot.
Gemma Sheperd stepped up to take the kick but keeper Rachael Laws made a fine diving save to her left.
The visitors were made to pay for the miss when Sunderland broke through left winger Nicola Devine and her low cross went across the face of goal before being smashed home at the far post by Ramshaw.
Sunderland seemed to lose concentration for a spell and allowed Charlton a couple of chances, the second of which was taken by Kit Graham from just inside the penalty area.
Sunderland held the visitors at bay after that and wrapped up the scoring a minute from time. Mead again caused problems down the left and set up substitute Sophie Williams, who slotted home into the far corner.
Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Wilson, Greenwell, McDougall, Furness, Ramshaw (Sutcliffe), Devine (Williams), Gutteridge, Mead. Subs not used: Salicki, Chidester.